I hated it.
There wasn’t anything there. Just some stores that looked so nondescript that they probably weren’t actually selling anything at all: they could have just been a set built by the government to give a feel of a neighborhood. These and a couple of people selling rambutan.
I hated how hot it was, being eight degrees below the equator, but since the northern hemisphere is winter we were basically angled right towards the sun. I hated how isolated it was. Coming here I had hoped for a subway, maybe a bus system? or at least taxis that drove by consistently. It was so loud too, with all the motor bikes driving by. Trash burned on the side of the road. Honestly that wasn’t a surprise after having been to India (I actually got nostalgic a few days ago when I stepped out my room into the heat, the humidity, and the smell of burning trash. "Ah... I miss India." Anyway...).
These were my sentiments about the street we were living on in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Honestly, in the first few days I didn’t even like the place we were staying in, a situation which was very nearly drastically worse when I drew a short straw to share a bed with Jordan for the duration of our stay. Fortunately, Elana and KC switched, thank God, Ganesh, Allah, Jah, Odin, Zeus, and Bender, but mostly just KC and Elana. That guy rolls around way too much for his size.
There was just something so unexpected about our street and hotel, the whole place, that it felt like a let-down. I was looking forward to an extended stay in a big city again after Thailand, Vietnam, and India. Looking back I was just spoiled after a love affair with Singapore’s subway system. Singapore’s special though, quoting one of our professors: "it’s all of Southeast Asia, but it works." I couldn’t really think of Yogyakarta in the same way.
Well, this is the street I’ll be stuck walking down for a month. Reaching that moment was cathartic. I took the time to explore the street. I looked for what I liked rather than keeping my gaze low enough to only see what I didn’t.
All the weird restaurants, sequestered away in tents, walls made out of big tarp-like sheets were actually quite good, and served food that varied quite a bit. Small cafes were everywhere. One place sold good Western food. I discovered some noodles only two days from our departure that I still dream about. One tent structure in particular served gado-gado, one of my staples as it turned out. I became, along with more than a few others, a regular, and didn’t even need to order after a few weeks. They just brought us gado-gado and an iced tea when we walked in.
The rambutan sellers started selling gold in my eyes. And for only five thousand Rupiah a kilo: it was in season, and so good. Rambutan is just another food I’ll miss—it’s not so good in Bali for some reason.
I made friends! We learned Bahasa in this country, and it was one of the best experiences, in and out of the classroom. People opened up once I spoke a few sentences of Bahasa, even just a few words. Somehow I became interesting, or different, or friendlier. People were happy that I was learning their language. They suddenly became more eager to talk. There is a lady on Jalan Babarsari, sitting beneath a colorful umbrella, and selling bananas. Every day I walked by going to class and bought some bananas for class, and every day I would practice the new words that I learned with her.
As it turns out, streets were connected to Babarsari and led to other streets different from the one I walked on every day to class. That’s right. There is a lot of rice fields behind the buildings that I walked by every day. It’s like a small agricultural area in the middle of a huge city. The juxtaposition between rice paddies, small houses, and the enormous cranes building a five star hotel exemplified growth in this city, Indonesia, and pretty much everywhere we’ve been and learned about. When I walked back there I couldn’t hear the traffic anymore. It became my evening walk because it exposed a great view of the sunset. Birds called, flew after bugs, and seemed to turn into bats as the sun set.
Puri Phunix, our hotel/dorm/apartment complex, was run by some of the sweetest ladies. Every time we would walk by they would smile and say hello. One of the ladies had a little daughter who was maybe seven. She was so shy at first, but towards the end of our stay she would smile and wave hello. She even stopped once when she walked by Natalie and me sitting at a table in the courtyard and put her hands together and danced a little. Natalie got up and mirrored the dance which sent the little girl into a fit of giggles as she ran to catch up with her mom.
And I even had a brief fling with the bus system when I took it to Prambanan.
Even though I was leaving for spring break, I didn’t want to leave. I actually got apprehensive about it. More than anywhere we’ve been so far this street felt like home, all the burnt trash, noise, and heat included.
Coming to terms with and finally loving a street that’s consistently ninety degrees, at least that in humidity, suffocating in exhaust, with strange food and a strange language was hard. It’s not an experience that is exclusive to PacRim, but it’s my PacRim experience. So here’s my cooker-cutter college statement ya’ll‘re expecting. Whatever “it” is, it isn’t as bad as I think it is. In fact, it isn’t even what I think it is. For some reason this is a lesson that I’ve been continuously learning throughout my life.